DEL NEGRO’S SECOND PERFECT MONTH

Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro has been a part of two of the three 16-0 months in NBA history. He just wrapped up a perfect December with the Clippers, but was a starter on the 1995-96 Spurs that went undefeated in March ’96. The two teams have a few notable similarities that go beyond merely Del Negro’s role in both.

Vinny Del Negro knows a thing, or 16, about perfection. 

Of the three teams in NBA history to complete a 16-0 month, the Clippers head coach has been a part of two of them.  

He patrolled the sidelines this December as the Clippers (25-6) put together the most historic stretch in their four decades as a franchise. The 1971-72 Lakers were the first to go unblemished in a calendar month consisting of 16 games, doing so when the Clippers were known as the Buffalo Braves and had been added to the league a year earlier. 

The Clippers’ undefeated month comes nearly 17 years after the San Antonio Spurs amassed the second perfect month in league history, going 16-0 in March.

Del Negro was a member of that team, too, averaging a career-high 14.5 points per game alongside fellow starters Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott, Dennis Rodman and David Robinson for a Spurs group that won 17 straight, just like the Clippers.  

“You know what I recall, I played with David Robinson and that took care of a lot of problems,” Del Negro said. “I was real fortunate to play with Dave for a long time. When we went on that streak we had a lot of quality players and a lot of NBA head coaches on that team and then David was the catalyst. I mean, obviously he was such a dominant player.” 

Two things emerge from Del Negro’s recollection of that season in San Antonio:  First, the depth of NBA knowledge among the roster. There were four recent NBA head coaches on that roster (Del Negro, Johnson, Doc Rivers and Monty Williams), an assistant (Chuck Person) and a front office executive (Hornets general manager Dell Demps). Second, the driving force of the ’95-96 Spurs was a superstar. 

Perhaps, the Clippers are similar in their makeup. They have a wealth of players with high basketball IQs. In NBA.com’s preseason survey of General Managers, Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill and Chris Paul were named among the top five active players who would “make the best head coach someday.” 

Paul along with fellow star Blake Griffin doubles as the Robinson figure: the ones who take care of a lot of problems. Del Negro has talked about the role of stars at various times throughout his two seasons coaching Paul and Griffin. 

“That’s what superstars do,” Del Negro said in Utah on Dec. 3 when the Clippers stormed back from 10 down in the fourth quarter to win behind Griffin’s 30 points and Paul’s daring-do in the final minute. 

Del Negro’s not one likely to compare teams, seasons or situations. He often says “every team is different.” But prior to the Clippers’ 17th consecutive victory Sunday, he let on that he sees some similarities between the Spurs of yore and his current team, particularly when navigating such an unprecedented win streak. 

“It’s never easy to do,” Del Negro said. “I don’t care what level you’re at, it’s hard, especially here (at the NBA level). We had a special bunch of guys then and I feel we have a special bunch of guys in our locker room.”

Paul alluded to the same thing Sunday. “We have the right personnel, the right people, stuff like that.”

Caron Butler said a mix of veterans and youngsters helps the group hold one another accountable. “We do a good job of policing ourselves,” Butler said. “I think coach lets us control the environment. That’s a great coaching tactic that he [has], letting us feel each other out, control the environment and it’s been working.”

As the Clippers arrive in Denver Monday evening, flush with Del Negro’s old Spurs team at 17 wins in a row, they look to avoid the same fate. The game immediately following their perfect month, San Antonio lost, 111-104, to the Suns on the road. 

“This is pro basketball,” Del Negro said. “There’s scheduling, injuries, you can play well and get beat, play poorly and win. You just have to kind of take them as they go. There’s never anything easy out there. We’ve proven that.”

They’ve also proven capable of making history, and in Del Negro’s case, doing it twice. 

MONTH OF PERFECTION: COMPARISON BETWEEN 1995-96 SPURS AND THE 2012-13 CLIPPERS

TEAM

MONTH

PPG

OPPG

DIFF

RPG

APG

BPG

SPG

Clippers

Dec. 2012

104.9

89.2

+15.7

43.3

25.4

6.3

11.0

Spurs

Mar. 1996

107.4

95.6

+11.8

44.4

27.2

6.6

8.4